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Local View: Second medical school in state couldn’t hurt us

The Columbian
Published: March 1, 2015, 12:00am

I am proudly both a Husky and a Coug. With the exception of one day a year, this distinction has been a great advantage for me both personally and professionally. Today I am proud of the world-class education our higher education institutions provide. Many of my family and friends are making the world a better place with the tools, knowledge and connections they received at UW and WSU.

When I first heard of the proposal for WSU to expand medical education, I was skeptical. After I learned about the community-based model and the following advantages, however, it became clear that one institution’s holding a monopoly on medical degrees in the state is not the best way to serve our citizens.

There is clearly both need and capacity in the health care system for this proposal to advance. Southwest Washington, like many regions around the state, is struggling from a shortage of primary care physicians. Seventeen counties in Washington, including in Southwest Washington, have 10.3 physicians or less per 10,000 people, compared to the national average of 26.1 per 10,000.

While we do benefit from strong health care institutions and resources in the region, without a strong response from the state, we will experience tremendous challenges both regionally and nationally in recruiting and maintaining a strong health care workforce.

Our best solution for this shortage does not lie simply in providing for more degrees, but also in the way in which students are integrated into the community with the WSU model. WSU’s community-based model specifically contemplates a role for Southwest Washington. With a WSU footprint and student service infrastructure already in place, Vancouver would become a hub for medical students conducting their clinical rotations, as students would be based out of this region for their entire third and fourth years.

WSU would partner with hospitals and clinics in Vancouver and adjacent areas in rural Southwest Washington, providing invaluable clinic-based experiences for medical students and giving them longitudinal training in working environments in which they could eventually practice.

This long-term experience would greatly increase the likelihood that graduates would stay in the area to practice because of the professional and personal relationships they’ll establish. The community-based medical schools at Michigan State University and Florida State University both achieve state retention rates for their graduates of over 60 percent. Training sites for third- and fourth-year clerkships could also become home for residencies, where medical school students train after graduation.

Benefits will spread

The local presence of third- and fourth-year medical students — and the resulting clinical teaching community that would be created — would increase the likelihood of attracting allied health sciences disciplines to the area. The strong relationships between WSUV and local health care providers would only strengthen our ability to take advantage of new opportunities with this proposal. As a regional provider of talent, the entire Portland metropolitan area would see economic benefits from this as well. Our region’s economic makeup — with the combination of recreation, health care, advanced materials, and technology — demands that we find ways to establish and grow our presence as global leaders in a health care market that is accelerating in demand.

The medical school debate does not demand one winner and one loser. As in most cases, the best path forward will be found by these two powerful entities’ working together to find a common ground that responds to the real demand and reflects the core strengths of each partner. Our policy leaders must look beyond territorial concerns and do what is right for the health of all communities in our great state.

Mike Bomar is president of the Vancouver-based Columbia River Economic Development Council.